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It Does Matter What You Believe!
We live in an increasingly sloppy thinking and naive relativism where people treat beliefs carelessly - unless there is disagreement with their own sloppy thinking - and then they can get get very defensive, if not extremely aggressive!
Back in 1981 Mark Albrecht, writing an editorial entitled, Fuzzy Thinking in the Age of Aquarius in New Religious Movements UPDATE magazine (Vol. V, No.2, Aug. 1981, Aarhus, Denmark), referred to such sloppy thinking and relativism when he stated:
The evidence in support of orthodoxy is so entrenched and overwhelming that it takes a deliberate attempt to ignore and twist the facts in order to refute it. Of course, such as a refutation is not really a refutation; it is simply an emotional argument masquerading behind fabricated evidence. And herein lies the real tragedy: many people believe such lies and half-truths because they have forgotten how to think critically. The Phenonomen of Alice Bailey Christianity plays upon the theological (and logical) naivete, fuzzy, thinking and intellectual laziness of pie-eyed and putty-brained spiritual seekers of our day. People allow the "estoeric teachers" to do the thinking for them. The teacher or guru says, "I’ll tell you how it is. I’ve got the distilled essence of cosmic truth and a firm handle on Christ’s true teachings, so you’ll just have to listen to me. Neverminding (sic) reading the Bible or studying church history, just listen to my explanation."... The Alice Bailey Christianity of the modern era which is promoted en masse by the new age groups and gurus reeks with intellectual dishonesty and drips with sloppy, bad and blatantly erroneous scholarship, not to mention intentional twisting of the facts. The unthinking acceptance of such muddled "evidence" is the greatest fault of the contemporary syncretistic sentiment. Indeed, it would be nice if all religions and philosophies taught the same thing, but the fact is that they don’t - a fact that even many scholars are incapable of recognizing.
Things have not improved since Albrecht wrote those comments in 1981. If anything, what he labels as "Alice Bailey Christianity" is not limited to the New Age Movement and all its tentative adherants. It has invaded the Christian church. Where once most Christians thought things through for themselves, checking out what the Bible has to say in context, many are letting their pastors, visiting "evangelists", TV-evangelists, and "celebrity" Christians do the thinking for them.
Truth is determined, for many, by the their emotions ("happy feelings"), their (or others’) experiences (or claimed experiences), or the after-effects of their diets!
Bible verses are wrestled out of context and distorted, and thrown around like empty over-used cliches, about "not judging others", "not ’touching’ the Lord’s anoited", "not being critical", "loving others" - and the like. All too often these are merely excuses for not examining issues carefully, prayerfully, and Biblically. They are used to avoid hard thinking, Bible study, and gaining a sound understanding of what it really means to be a Christian.
While today there are more Bibles available (in various versions, translations and paraphrases), and more people have access to Bibles, more Christians are Biblically illiterate and religiously naive. A growing number of Christians have little idea of what Christianity really teaches - or what Christians have always believed and why they have believed those things.
In the United States the Barna Research Group conducted a representative nationwide poll of adult Americans earlier this year, with some disturbing results.
The Research group explains a "born again Christian" as someone who states that there has been a "a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in life today" and he or she who believes that after death he or she will "go to heaven because [they] have confessed [their] sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as [their] saviour."
EP News Service reports:
- Nearly two out of three adults (62 percent) agreed that Satan "is not a living being but is a symbol of evil," a response that has remained relatively consistent throughout the 1990s. In a suprising finding, however, ...[it was] found that even a majority of born-again Christians (52 percent) deny the existence of Satan, as do nearly three out of four Catholics (72 percent).
Even more stunnis the nationwide consensus that the Holy Spirit does not exist. Six out of 10 Americans (61 percent) agreed with the statment, "the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God’s presence or power, but not a living entity." Amazingly, a majority of born-again Christians (55 percent) also reject the existence of the Holy Spirit. The Christian faith, which 84% of all adults say they embrace, teaches that the Holy Spirit is a part of the Trinity, which is the expression of one God as three persons.
The Survey also found:
- 87 percent claim that their relgious faith is very important in their lives.
- 58 percent agree that the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches.
- 53 percent believe that if a person is good enough, or does enough good things for other people, they will earn their way into Heaven. (One third of all born-again Christians accept this notion.)
- 40 percent believe that when Jesus was on earth He committed sins (28 percent of born-again Christians believe this).
39 percent of Americans and 35 percent of born-again Christians say that Jesus Christ was crucifed, but never had a physical resurrection.
Still, four out of five adults (83 percent) claimed that their religious beliefs actually change the way they behave. Such influence was especially likely among women (86 percent) and born-again Christians (92 percent). Such influence was particularly unlikely in the Northeast (76 percent) and among Baby Busters (74 percent).
The study also found growing acceptance of homosexuality, pornography, and dishonesty.
George Barna, president of the Barna Research Group...said, America appears to be drowning in a sea of relativistic, non-Biblical theology. We are living in amidst the dilution of traditional, Bible-based Christian faith. Millions of Americans are comfortable calling themselves "Christians" even though their beliefs suggest otherwise. For a majority of Americans - especially born-again Christians - to reject the existence of the Holy Spirit, reflects either incredible ignorance of the basic teachings of Christianity, or a pick-and-choose mentality in which people only believe those teachings from the Bible which they like or understand.
Barna continued, At the same time, our rejection of orthodox Christian beliefs, coupled with a relativistic culture, has led millions of adults to embrace a worldview totally at odds with the faith they allegedly embrace. The Irony is that most of the individuals who are caught up in their own contradictions are completely unaware of those conflicts. Meanwhile, those who are aware of the conflicts seem to possess no sense urgency to reconcile these competing perspectives or to arrive at a holistic, coherent point-of-view. But when a people who claim to be Christian deny the exisitence of the Holy Spirit - the very existence and nature of the Christian faith - then we have a people whose Christianity is superficial, compromised and inconsistent. Perhaps you can say that Americans are religious, but the profile painted by these stastitics suggests that most adults cannot be described as informed about the Christian faith they claim.
These data are based on a representative, nationwide, survey of adults; the margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points, at the 95 percent confidence interval.
This American survey was very revealing of the sloppy and relativistic thinking of Christians in that country, but would Australia Christians come out any better? Our limited observation of the nature of Australian Christianity would lead us to suspect that it is probably worse than in the USA.
We are having to deal with more and more inquiries about unbiblical concepts being taught in churches by pastors, as well as lay leaders. It would seem that the teaching of sound Biblical doctrine with any regularity is becoming a rarity. Average Christians seem more and more confused about the basic essentials of the Christian faith.
Such confusion and ignorance often leads to gullibility and the road to the cults and all sorts of Christian, and other religious, fringe groups- often with devastating results in the long-term.
Perhaps we need to ask oursleves how we would fare if George Barna had us responding to his survey - and would his descriptive comments of concern about the state of many people’s claimed Christianity be applicable to us?
As Christians we all need to read and study the Bible (in context- originally there were NO chapters and verses, so read the whole letters and whole books to get the overall meaning), and we also need to read widely the works of Christian writers and scholars of both past and present. And above all we need to think through our faith carefully, prayerfully and thoroughly.
(From TACL Vol 18 #3 May/June 1997)